One of my first jobs was at a grocery store: Ralphs Grocery Company. When I was in high school, Ralphs opened up a new store in the Sacramento area and I got hired on, along with 33 others, as a courtesy clerk—also known as a box boy, or bagger. Before I started I asked for advice from my uncle, who was a Vice President at Vons—a large grocery company in Southern California. He simply said, “Work your tail off!” Actually, he used more colorful language. Anyway, the Grand Opening came and the store was packed with customers for a few weeks. And I did my best to work my tail off. I refused to take any breaks, I ran wherever I went. I came in early and stayed late. I pushed hard. And so did a few of my co-workers, while others took it easy. Soon the hype of a new store died down, and layoffs began. We went from 34 courtesy clerks to 30, to 27, to 23, to 19, to 16, to 12, to 10, 9, 8, all the way down to 7. 27 of the original 34 courtesy clerks were laid off. The seven of us who stayed on were quite diverse: males and females, all kinds of ethnic backgrounds, various age ranges. Yet we became tight friends because we had something in common—we all worked our tails off. We felt we were the seven best courtesy clerks around because we didn’t take break, we ran wherever we went, we came in early, we stayed late, we pushed hard, we really worked hard. And we had learned a valuable lesson together—hard work pays off.
Years later, I was just starting my first church--I was also still in the grocery business and working as a stock clerk at an Albertsons store in Denver—and I had an opposite kind of experience. Our particular grocery store was closing down, sold to another company. There was less and less work to do, but union rules dictated that the store needed to pay us employees for a full day of work—eight hours—even though there was, honestly, very little to do. So we’d arrive at 5 a.m., clock in and immediately take a break for an hour or so. Then we’d work a little bit. The store opened at seven, so we would stop work to put on our ties. We stretched that out to take an hour. We’d work a bit, then take a lunch, most of which was on the clock. We’d work a little, take another break and somehow manage to get our time in before finally leaving.
That super easy work schedule was fun—for about two days. Then it got to be so demoralizing. We couldn’t wait for that store to close so we could all get our transfers to other stores and get back to work!
The grocery business taught me a lifelong lesson: hard work pays off, laziness doesn’t.
King Solomon put it this way:
All hard work brings a profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty.—Proverbs 14:23 (NIV)
Hard work always pays off; mere talk puts no bread on the table.—Proverbs 14:23 (TMV)
The book of Proverbs is one of contrast: the wise person versus the fool; the God-fearer versus the mocker; the hard worker versus the lazy.
And one point comes through over and over again: hard work pays off, so work your tail off.
William Hague quipped, “There's only one growth strategy: work hard.”
John Madden said, “If a guy doesn't work hard and doesn't play well, he can't lead anything. All he is, is a talker.”
Vince Lombardi added, “The dictionary is the only place that success comes before work. Work is the key to success, and hard work can help you accomplish anything.”
And I love this quote from Thomas Jefferson, “I'm a greater believer in luck, and I find the harder I work the more I have of it”
Hard work pays off!
But we are living in a society that is waging a not-so-subtle war against hard work. Our society says,
“Hard work pays off in the future, laziness pays off now.”
“Don’t work hard, let the government take care of you.”
“Sure I’m willing to work longer hours at work. As long as they’re lunch hours.”
“Hard work never killed anybody, but why take a chance?”
I realize that the “Builder Generation” and the “Baby Boom Generation” had a tendency to overdo it, to become workaholics, but younger people, don’t throw out the principle of hard work. Hard work pays off: in your finances, your career, your spirituality, in your life.
Don’t be afraid to work your tail.
How Can We Work Hard?
Let me make three suggestions:
1. Work Enthusiastically
Servants, do what you’re told by your earthly masters. And don’t just do the minimum that will get you by. Do your best. Work from the heart for your real Master, for God, confident that you’ll get paid in full when you come into your inheritance. Keep in mind always that the ultimate Master you’re serving is Christ. The sullen servant who does shoddy work will be held responsible. Being a follower of Jesus doesn’t cover up bad work.—Colossians 3:22-25 (TMV)
The Bible uses the terms: wholeheartedly and heartily to describe what our work should be. I like the term enthusiastically because it describes effort and attitude.
The NBA draft is coming up and a term they used to describe player’s enthusiasm is “motor.” Analysts say, “This player has a great motor.” Or “His motor is lacking.” Its that drive, that enthusiasm, that effort and attitude. Some players have made long careers, not because of their exceptional talent, but primarily because of their instinct to work their tails off.
Have you checked your “motor” lately? Are you putting your heart into your work?
Teddy Roosevelt believed, “Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.”
2. Work Smart
Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. —1 Peter 4:10 (NIV)
Some people work hard, but they are working on things that won’t pay off, they are working in the wrong area.
There is a lot of talk about passion these days. We are pushed to find our passion.
Here’s my advice: forget your passion! I am so frustrated watching people get passionate about silly stuff. People get passionate about things they have no talent for. Some people are passionate about music when they have no musical ability! (Have you seen “American idol”?)
Stop worrying about your passion, find your strengths, your gifts, your talents, your abilities and get passionate about that. God give you those gifts, work hard on them!
And Solomon added: A hard worker has plenty of food, but a person who chases fantasies ends up in poverty.—Proverbs 28:19 (NLT)
Now you might be thinking, “But JD, you don’t know what a terrible job I have. I have the worst boss, the worst situation, it is hopeless.”
Maybe we don’t love what we do, but we can love why we’re doing it.
In the series finale of the television sitcom, “The Office” Jim Halpert, one of the star characters concludes, “I sold paper at this company for twelve years. My job was to speak to clients on the phone about quantities and types of paper. Even if I didn’t love every minute of it, everything I have I owe to this job--This stupid, wonderful, boring, amazing job.”
We can work smart—doing our best, paying our dues, plugging away—even if we’re not in the best position right now.
3. Work for God
Servants, respectfully obey your earthly masters but always with an eye to obeying the real master, Christ. Don’t just do what you have to do to get by, but work heartily, as Christ’s servants doing what God wants you to do. And work with a smile on your face, always keeping in mind that no matter who happens to be giving the orders, you’re really serving God. Good work will get you good pay from the Master, regardless of whether you are slave or free. Masters, it’s the same with you. No abuse, please, and no threats. You and your servants are both under the same Master in heaven. He makes no distinction between you and them.—Ephesians 6:5-9 (TMV)
The Apostle Paul reminds us that no matter who is calling the shots, God is our actual boss. God is the one who gives promotions, he is the one in charge. If I think I’m the boss, I’m wrong. I work for God.
And God deserves my best. I must work my tail off for God.
In the Old Testament there’s a simple tribute to Hezekiah:
In this way, King Hezekiah handled the distribution throughout all Judah, doing what was pleasing and good in the sight of the Lord his God. In all that he did in the service of the Temple of God and in his efforts to follow God’s laws and commands, Hezekiah sought his God wholeheartedly. As a result, he was very successful.—2 Chronicles 31:20-21 (NLT)
Hezekiah worked for God, he served wholeheartedly, he worked his tail off. And as a result, he was very successful.
Let’s work our tails off.